GREENVILLE, S.C.—Michelin North America has begun producing tires at a plant in Greenville using its new C3M advanced manufacturing process. The 200,000-sq.-ft. plant, which employs about 200, is the company's fourth such facility and the first outside of Europe. It currently is producing Michelin's Rainforce MX4 tires.
Construction of the plant is part of the more than $500 million multi-plant expansion program Michelin announced in November 1995, though the firm kept the C3M project a secret.
Sitting on 21 acres, the new factory is adjacent to Michelin's existing radial tire plant in Greenville.
The company declined to reveal the cost of the C3M unit or its capacity.
C3M is Michelin's revolutionary flexible manufacturing process, one that reportedly does away with the component manufacturing and assembly process in favor of complete building of the tire on a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) drum.
The C3M process uses one-third the energy and needs much less factory space than traditional tire plants, Michelin said. The process also provides more flexibility to allow Michelin to quickly adjust to market needs and customer demands, and to provide just-in-time delivery, said Jim Morton, Michelin North America's vice president of public relations.
The Greenville-based tire maker began shipping C3M-manufactured Rainforce MX4 tires into the market in early May. Initially the tire will be available in one size, 185/70R14, with a 185/65R15 version available in October and size 195/70R14 added in November.
Tires made using the C3M process meet the same quality and performance levels of other Michelin tires and are fully interchangeable with tires using traditional manufacturing methods, Michelin said. The tires also look nearly the same with a few minor cosmetic differences.
Two Michelin factories in France and one in Sweden use C3M.
The C3M process promises an 85-percent reduction in overall manufacturing time, Michelin has said in the past. By the turn of the century, the company anticipates manufacturing 30 to 40 percent of its passenger car tires with this system.
Fundamentally, the new technology is designed to eliminate as much as possible the steps involving semi-finished components. This almost certainly involves the production of treads, sidewalls, plies and other components at the assembly site, those familiar with the end product have surmised.
Implementing such a system to its fullest extent would reduce the area needed for a tire factory by as much as 90 percent from that currently necessary.
Europe Correspondent Bruce Davis also contributed to this report.